Stuart Maconie: The People's Songs

By Blake Stuart Maconie, for those not familiar with his work on radio and print, is warm, witty and erudite, and an unapologetic champion of pop music.  Through his radio 2 series “The People’s Songs” (and accompanying book) he has explored the role of music in shaping and reflecting the realities of modern Britain.

Birmingham Town Hall is an iconic venue marking the edge of Victoria square, and will be familiar to many Brummies.  The hall opened in 1834, with one of the architects being Joseph Hansom, later the inventor of the Hansom cab.   The Town Hall project actually bankrupted Hansom, the experience of which may have led to him later becoming a radical socialist.

I mention this as the Town Hall is therefore an appropriate venue for Maconie’s discussion of music, politics and everything in between, with particular focus on ‘ordinary’ people, as the building has served in the past as a forum for political debate and a meeting place for local government.  During his talk, Maconie drily noted he felt the pressure, knowing that Charles Dickens gave readings at the Hall (apparently, the first public reading of a Christmas Carol).  The venue symbolises the grandeur and optimism of the city in the 19th century, and we should remain proud of it today.

Maconie is an engaging speaker, and his talk this evening is fairly fluid, structured loosely around some of the themes from The People’s Songs radio programme, a good format for a raconteur used to performing on live radio. As well as The People’s Songs, the talk includes excerpts from Maconie’s amusing and insightful books on music, food and The North, all of which he links well to his personal stories – his tale of being taken to see The Beatles as a small child is particularly hilarious.  In the hands of a less likable host, some of the tales could have descended into grating “here’s a story about my famous mates” anecdotes, but Maconie is unpretentious and grounded and these instead become fascinating insights.

The only downside of the evening, ironically, is the venue itself.  Despite being a spectacular building, both outside and in, the Town Hall is too large and “showy” for Maconie’s warm and inclusive manner.  The hall was less than full and this did give rise to a slight sense of being present at a sparsely-attended political gathering.  Overall, this reviewer felt that the event would have felt better in a more intimate setting.

This is, however, not a criticism of either the Town Hall, or of Maconie himself – both are things to be treasured.

During the evening, Maconie noted with glee that The People’s Songs programmes are on the iplayer for 800 years (I’ve checked, and it seems he was getting ahead of himself – the latest episode is due to expire in 2099…).  Let’s hope that the heirs to this warm chronicler of the modern world are appearing at the Town Hall then.

Were you at this event? We would love to know your thoughts so please do add your comments below.

Blake can be contacted on Twitter  @brum_enthusiast or take a look at his blog 

Photos by Blake & Brum Faves.